Japan has a long tradition of knife manufacturing and it is a tradition that is not just limited to one area, like in the UK (Sheffield), Germany (Solingen) or France (Thiers). Japanese knife manufacturing is spread out over the whole country, but generally there are important differences in the types of product coming out of each area.
Located on the West coast of Japan around the prefecture of Niigata are located Japan’s most famous knife factories. The city of Tsubame has had a large metal working industry since the Edo period (1603-1868) but was particularly famous for cutlery production.
Here factories produce blades with more mass production methods, blades are cut into shape to from mass produced blanks, hardened and tempered. These factories are bigger, more modern with superb factory machinery and usually support the more widely known brands; Global, Tojiro and Tamahagane among others. These knife makers produce superb knives for world leading brands, which are generally more affordable.
Takefu – Echizen
The origin of Echizen cutlery stretches back to the 14th century when a Kyoto swordsmith, Chiyozura Kuniyasa is said to have looked for a source of pure water to manufacturer the highest quality swords. During the Edo period (1603-1868) the area was famous for agricultural equipment and all other kinds of steel equipment.
Makers in Echizen still make knives in very traditional Japanese manner. Many of the manufacturers are independent knife smiths considered to be some of the very best in Japan, if not the whole world. Particular attention is given to Takefu Knife village where several of the leading manufacturers have come together to form a cooperative to share machinery.
Seki – Gifu
Seki has an 800 year old history of knife making and is still considered today to be the ‘City of Blades’. Situated in the confluence of two major rivers, with an abundance of local coal deposits, Seki has a remarkable similarity to Sheffield in the UK.
There are still over 50 knife and cutlery makers located in the city and Seki competes fiercely with Tsubame to be Japan’s knife making capital. Brands that manufacture in Seki include; Kasumi, Masahiro and Kanetsugu.
This old industrial town on the outskirts of Osaka is famous for making many handmade knives. Traditional blacksmiths work out of small workshops attached to their homes. Uniquely among the areas of knife manufacturing, these small artisan produces take on different parts of the knife production process to work together to make the final product for various brands and dealers ordering the knives. Blacksmiths forge the blades, Grinders thin and put edges on the knives and finally pass to a distributor who puts a mark on the knife.